Cases of Salmonella in humans fell by 17 per cent in Europe, according to latest figures.

Cases of Salmonella in humans fell by 17 per cent in Europe, according to latest figures.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published their annual joint report on zoonoses and food-borne outbreaks in the EU for 2009. The report shows Salmonella cases dropped by 17 per cent, marking a decrease for the fifth consecutive year. The report also shows that between 2008 and 2009 the number of laying hen flocks infected with Salmonella fell by 9 per cent.

Campylobacteriosis remained the most reported zoonotic disease in humans, showing a slight increase with 198,252 cases in 2009 compared to 190,566 in 2008 (up 4 per cent). In foodstuffs, Campylobacter, which can cause diarrhoea and fever, was mostly found in raw poultry meat; and in live animals, it was found in poultry, pigs and cattle.

Hubert Deluyker, EFSA’s director of scientific cooperation and assistance, said: “The fall in Salmonella cases in humans is a great achievement and indicates that the control measures put in place by EU member states and the European Commission are working. EFSA, in cooperation with its partners, will continue to support all efforts to reduce all zoonotic diseases across the EU.”

Andrea Ammon, head of the surveillance unit at ECDC, added: “Combining surveillance of disease in humans with information from food and animals provides invaluable information that allows the European Commission to target control measures effectively across Europe. ECDC will continue to collaborate intensively with all partners in order to decrease the occurrence of these diseases.”

The report says that the reduction targets set by the European Commission to reduce the spread of Salmonella in poultry, eggs and chicken meat are likely to be the main reasons for the reduction in the number of human cases. The report states that in 2009, 17 member states met their Salmonella reduction targets for laying hens and that the proportion of EU laying hen flocks infected with the targeted Salmonella types continued to fall (3.2 per cent in 2009 compared to 3.5 per cent in 2008).

Salmonella, which is the second most reported zoonotic infection in humans, accounted for 108,614 human cases in 2009 compared to 131,468 in 2008. The illness it causes, salmonellosis, usually involves fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. For more vulnerable groups, like small children and the elderly, hospital care may in some instances be required. Salmonella also remained the most frequent cause of food-borne outbreaks and was found most frequently in chicken, turkey and pig meat.

The report also gives an overview of other food-borne diseases. Listeria infections in humans showed an increase of 19 per cent in 2009 compared to 2008, with 1,645 confirmed cases. Listeria is known to have a high case fatality rate, affecting mostly vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. The report estimates that in 2009 approximately 270 people died in the EU from listeriosis – a fatality rate of 17 per cent among those affected by the disease. In foodstuffs, it can be found in types of ready-to-eat food, such as smoked fish and heat-treated meat products and cheeses.

Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) accounted for 3,573 human disease cases in 2009, marking a slight increase from 2008. Among animals and foodstuffs, VTEC was most often reported in cattle and their meat. The number of human cases of Yersinia enterocolitica, another bacterium mostly found in pigs and their meat, fell in 2009 to 7,595.

The report added that 5,550 food-borne outbreaks were recorded in the EU in 2009, affecting 48,964 people and causing 46 deaths. The most frequently reported causes of food-borne outbreaks were Salmonella (31 per cent of all outbreaks), viruses (19 per cent) and bacterial toxins (10 per cent). The biggest sources of outbreaks were eggs and egg products, mixed and buffet meals and pork and derived products.

The report covers 14 zoonotic diseases, including Q fever, brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, rabies and the two parasitic zoonoses, trichinellosis and echinococcosis. The full version of the report with data by country and annexes is available here.

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